£4.2m wage bill for suspended teachers leads to review call
Schools have been urged to review their disciplinary procedures after it emerged £4m has been spent on suspended teachers' wages.
Some 123 teachers have been suspended in the last five years - with 95 subsequently reinstated.
A total of £4,218,412 was spent on wages, pension and national insurance contributions in that time.
The figures were disclosed by the Education Minister after an Assembly question from SDLP MLA John Dallat.
Mr Dallat said the true cost could be up to double the figure stated, because the pay of substitute teachers was not included.
He said the system needed urgently reviewed. "There is something seriously wrong with a system that suspends 106 teachers, of which 95 are then found not guilty of a sackable offence," Mr Dallat said.
"Clearly there are more questions to be asked to discover the true cost.
"There is also the disruption to pupils who lose their teachers, and the stigma that surrounds a teacher who is suspended.
"A teacher's character can be systematically destroyed by gossip and rumour - even if they are subsequently cleared and reinstated. Surely there must be a better way to handle allegations."
Education Minister John O'Dowd confirmed 123 teachers had been suspended in the five years to April. He said 106 of these cases had been resolved, with 95 teachers reinstated.
Six were dismissed and five resigned or retired. In the last year, the total wages of teachers on suspension came to £1,272,440 - double the 2010/11 figure of £611,690.
The £4.2m five-year bill includes £3.5m on salaries, £468,000 on pension contributions and £296,000 on national insurance costs. The figures do not include voluntary grammar schools.
Justin McCamphill from NASUWT, which represents teachers in Northern Ireland, said schools were suspending too many teachers.
"It is used inappropriately and too readily by boards of governors," he said. "Ultimately they are not the people who are picking up the bill. You need more accountability from school governors."
Mr McCamphill said he was aware of cases which have dragged on for two or three years. "It is not an acceptable way for employers to deal with staff," he added.
Teachers can be placed on suspension by a school's board of governors, the chairperson of the board of governors or the principal.
A suspension could relate to an allegation of misconduct, a child protection issue or because of medical or health and safety grounds. Mr O'Dowd said the Department of Education does not employ teachers, and is therefore not directly involved in employment matters.
"The decision to place a teacher on precautionary suspension, without prejudice, should only be taken after careful consideration and where it is deemed absolutely necessary," he said.